I have to come clean: I love a good skills plan. I love assembling and cajoling employers and their representative bodies to join in, and then determining the scope, collecting and sourcing the data on the job market and the local existing skills levels and subsequently realising – much of which is already available within a local authority enterprise or equivalent team. So why not put the role with local authorities?
Gathering the views of residents and business leaders is fascinating because people’s perceptions never match with reality, which leads to the exciting bit of changing minds, determining the gaps, working out a set of suitable interventions and seeing whether there is enough funding to fill them. Then reality strikes, as there will not be enough funding and the exercise of determining priorities and rationing will become a low point. In a nutshell, all activity of developing a plan typically boils down to whether we should fund adult basic skills learners to get their first foot on the ladder, or fund the successful to be more successful.
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Having said that, it’s always worth doing and we should still try. The debates and meeting of minds and the promotion of skills makes it a valuable exercise in itself. Over the past 50 years, this country has tried all the different processes available, and many countries worldwide have adopted them and made them work, while we moved on to the next version.
We’ve tried to do this by sector (Industrial Training Boards, Sector Skills Councils, Employer Trailblazer Groups) and we’ve tried to do it by place (Manpower Services Commission Skills Plans, Local Employer Networks, Training and Enterprise Councils, Local Learning and Skills Councils, Mayoral Combined Authorities) and now we have Local Skills Improvement Plans running alongside MCA plans. Each method has its strengths. I am hoping that LSIPs will have longevity but it needs to encompass all local providers, otherwise tensions are going to be built in from day one.
Local plans do have a role but, looking at past efforts, what we learned was that the plan was just a moment in time: you have no control over the overarching fiscal environment that you work in – what seems sensible one week doesn’t work if recession hits or when, for one reason or another, a large employer withdraws from a programme and relocates to another country, leaving providers and trainees in the lurch.
Therefore, because of the fragility of skills plans, I am not clear how a college governing body can just adopt an LSIP without undertaking their own due diligence on whether the LSIP is in the best interests of the college for which they are responsible. The creation of LSIPs in law will in turn have an impact on the present legal status of a college as a private sector incorporated charity. It will be interesting to see whether the ONS will reclassify colleges back to being an adjunct of DfE, and what form this "nationalisation" might take.
Government insists that one of the reasons for having local plans is to ensure local people can have access to the local job market. However, if an industry has problems recruiting staff, an LSIP is not going to make a real difference to their recruitment; the same problems will exist. Worker choices over who they work for are complex. If the salary is not at the right level for the job, the reputation of the business is not good, it is not easy to get to and doesn’t offer child-friendly hours, or doesn’t have a good health and safety record, then having an LSIP alone will not encourage people to train for those industries and put themselves forward for those jobs.
Having the country covered by LSIPs will require a new cohort of skills planners, administrators and data collectors. The new breed of skills planners will have the advantage of having robust data – ILR, NOMIS LEO, etc – but they shouldn’t be disappointed when things move on and change. Remember, this is just a point in time. Individuals choose jobs for a number of reasons; just drawing their attention to jobs that exist won’t cut it. If there was a problem with recruitment before, there will still be a problem after an LSIP.
Sue Pember is policy director at Holex